The rise and fall of Jared Leto’s Joker

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Jared Leto was set to take the role of The Joker forward across more than one DC movie – but things didn’t quite go to plan.

Ah, Suicide Squad. The film many love to hate. So much so that next year, only five years after the original film’s release, we’ll see the franchise be ‘relaunched’ with James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, that’s due for release in 2021. Featuring a team of mostly new faces, Gunn’s film will however see the return of Suicide Squad’s Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Jai Courtney (Captain Boomerang), Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flag) and Viola Davis (Amanda Waller).

One name noticeably absent from the cast list is Jared Leto, whose Joker also won’t be appearing in next month’s Suicide Squad spin-off Birds Of Prey.

This decision has certainly received a mixed reaction from DC fans, with some praising the choice, while others defend Leto’s Joker, arguing that he deserves a second chance.

All of which leaves us asking two questions: why did it all go so wrong for Leto’s Clown Prince Of Crime, and was it all his fault?

Cast your minds back to 2014, when it was announced Leto would be playing everyone’s favourite comicbook villain: The Joker.

The actor had just won his first Oscar, for his incredible performance in 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club (pictured above), after focusing on his music career with band 30 Seconds To Mars for the previous five years. The announcement then was quite the shock, especially since Leto is known for being picky when it comes to choosing which acting roles to take on.

But it was a shock that caused much delight, and dampened the concerns that no actor would be able to follow in the footsteps of Heath Ledger’s outstanding and award winning Joker. There was quite the buzz surrounding Leto’s Joker, with plenty of people excited to see how the Oscar-winning actor would step up to the challenge.

This buzz heightened when stories about Leto’s method acting and absurd antics began to hit headlines: sending the cast a dead pig at the first table read, insisting on being called ‘Mistah J’ at all times on set, gifting Robbie a live rat and Will Smith bullets. Yeah, Leto went full-method.

However, all of that excitement was killed with just one swift stroke: the release of the first photos of Leto’s Joker. This was the first shot released…

The ‘damaged’ tattoo on his forehead, complete with a golden grill and reptile skin jacket, Leto looked more like a member of a rubbish punk band, rather than Batman’s arch nemesis. While it was smart of Warner Bros to go in such a different direction with the villain, and hindsight is easy, the route it took feels very much a wrong turn. This cheap and tacky looking Joker was disappointing, but many of us still went into Suicide Squad with an open mind and hope, most of which was crushed by the time the credits rolled.

Whether you are a fan of the film or not, there is no denying there are serious problems with it when it comes to Leto’s Joker. And in turn, arguably these problems weren’t really down to Leto’s actual performance, which was fine. While his method acting style did not deliver the powerhouse performance he may have been aiming for, he still captured the chaotic sense of the Joker.

But not only was the character design heavily distracting and the script poor, crucially Leto was barely in the movie. Of Suicide Squad’s two and a quarter hour long run-time, Leto’s Joker only pops in a stripped back ten minutes of it, essentially reduced to an extended glorified cameo. And in those ten minutes, Leto’s Joker really doesn’t do much, except play a role in Harley Quinn’s origin.

The rest is simply filler which does not tie into the main storyline, giving the impression the Joker was just shoved anywhere into the film so the studio could say Suicide Squad features the immensely popular supervillain. Yet in this case, the role was savaged it seems in the editing room. Both Leto and director David Ayer have admitted the Joker’s role was seriously cut down, and unfortunately for Leto, this didn’t give him a chance to shine.

It is hard to judge a performance which has been so severely cut, and executive meddling may have tainted Leto’s role.

What’s even more unfortunate for the Oscar-winning actor is that he will never get that chance again, as his time as the Clown Prince Of Crime is very much over. The combined factors of the poor reception his Joker received, the critical bashing Suicide Squad took and Gunn’s relaunch means we won’t see Leto’s Joker again. There were rumours that he’d return in another Suicide Squad or elsewhere in the DC movie universe. But that now seems all but certain not to happen.

Granted, you may think that other characters that struggled are getting another run, such as Rick Flag and Captain Boomerang. But those characters are nowhere near as iconic as The Joker. There’s still wiggle room to explore Flag and Boomerang, but the Joker is DC royalty. Plus, in Suicide Squad, the other characters weren’t as heavily criticised as Leto’s villain. The Joker did take a lot of the flack.

Then there’s the billion dollar elephant in the room.

2019’s Joker movie sidelined Leto and recast the role with Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix is now attracting awards recognition for his performance in Todd Phillips’ film, and an Oscar is a strong possibility. Whilst at first the talk when Joker was announced of having potentially Leto continuing the role in parallel, it’s now clear that  Leto’s ‘Mistah J’ could never come back. Phoenix, in the eyes of moviegoers, is the incumbent Joker, and his reviews contrast starkly with the notices for Suicide Squad.

According to a Hollywood Reporter story, Leto felt ‘alienated and upset’ when Warners greenlit Phillips’ Joker film instead of his, and it’s understandable why the actor was hurt by this. Because no matter what you think about his performance and take on the character, it is clear Leto’s Joker was never really given a proper chance on the screen.

Off the screen? Whether Leto’s Suicide Squad co-stars were that keen to work alongside someone going so method is not known. It would have been easy to include the character in Birds Of Prey at least, given the story ties to Harley Quinn. There’s a reason somewhere along the line why the Joker will be absent from that film. And that felt like the last avenue remaining for Leto’s take on Joker.

For now, the role is Phoenix’s, and given Joker's $1bn+ gross, Warner Bros won’t want to mess with its new golden goose. Of course, more Jokers will come along in the future. But for Leto, it feels his time in the role is done…

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